I really don’t mean to whine in this post and I hope it doesn’t come across complaining. I have simply been pondering the question of what it is about parenting that makes it so hard. Children are a delight, surely? Shouldn’t they bring me joy, fulfilment, and aren’t they fun to be with? With all the tragedies reported in the media recently, my thoughts have turned to my relationship with my offspring, to that moment when you think “What really is the most important to me? When it’s a life and death situation?” Loud and clear, it is my family – not my career, not myself even, but my two children and my husband. If I could ensure they were safe, happy and healthy, and if I could see them every day, I have everything I need. And yet, I find myself longing for some time to myself; when it is approaching 9pm and we are struggling to get either child to go to bed (what is with that recently?) that is when I begin to fantasise about spending a night alone in a hotel room.
So what is it that makes being a parent so hard? Why do we get together to commiserate, why do we call it “crazy”, and why do we respond with “Oh God, No!” when well-meaning friends ask if we have plans to expand the family? This thought of mine is backed up by evidence from rigorous studies that show that parents report less moment-to-moment happiness than non-parents, but a greater sense of meaning overall. Yep, that’s me.
Well, sometimes it comes down to this. Kids can behave in ways that melt your heart. They give the best cuddles, they insist on holding your hand, they like dancing, they say funny and endearing things. They can be unbelievably sweet to their siblings. Sometimes they will eat something that you have botched up at dinner, something almost inedible, and they will say “Yum it’s so delicious, Mummy! Can I have more please!” (This is a true story. It happened just last night).
My days are peppered generously with sunny moments like these, like when my son first wakes and only wants to sit on my lap for ten minutes. I have a long, indulgent cuddle with him, and spend the ten minutes just inhaling the top of his head. (He smells amazing. Don’t all small children?) Then he toddles off to start the day and cuddles are fairly few and far between after that from my little dynamo.
Here’s the rub. This behaviour is by no means constant. There are all those moments in between, such as:
• the tantrum over being given Vegemite on toast instead of honey
• refusing to eat anything apart from processed cheese
• hitting, biting and scratching when they don’t get their way
• assuming “The Rod” position when they are supposed to be buckled into the stroller or car seat (see cartoon below if you are not familiar with this position)
• saying things like “Then I won’t be your friend!” or “You can’t come to my house any more” (something I actually find quite hilarious) when I tell her she cannot have a cookie before dinner, or that she has to have a shower
• sibling fights
• refusing to brush teeth, get changed, get into the shower, get into pyjamas, get into bed
• throwing a nutritionally balanced, lovingly cooked meal on the floor
• wriggling around during a nappy change
The fact is, children are human, and they are not meant to provide us with constant amusement, entertainment, and joy. (Wouldn’t it be such pressure on them if this was the case!) Children get tired and hungry; they have poor control over their impulses and emotions; they deal badly with frustration; they do not appreciate nutrition, hygiene and keeping to a schedule the way we do. They are only children, after all. We are in charge of raising them to be well-mannered, considerate adults who still have all their teeth and can keep appointments. This is often in direct conflict with what children really want to do.
I read an article today (I actually Googled “Why Is It So Hard To Raise Kids”) which really hit the nail on the head. A paragraph reads:
All this makes sense from a historical perspective, the scientists point out: In an earlier time, kids actually had economic value; they worked on farms or brought home paychecks, and they didn’t cost that much. Not coincidentally, emotional relationships between parents and children were less affectionate back then — and childhood was much less sentimentalized. Paradoxically, as the value of children has diminished, and the costs have escalated, the belief that parenthood is emotionally rewarding has gained currency. In that sense, the myth of parental joy is a modern psychological phenomenon.
And yet, I cannot deny that I do derive an indescribable satisfaction from raising my children, and cannot imagine my life without them. They are and always will be the most important parts of my life. I have long moved beyond suffering intense guilt from not always enjoying my children, but I continue to reshape the way I think about this parenting journey. It’s hard, raising children, the hardest thing in the world. But the events of this week, with the shooting of innocent parents and schoolchildren, has made me hold my children even closer, almost suffocatingly so, when I see them again. Because I’m so damn lucky to have them and have this day with them. Even days when my son is doing The Rod in the car seat.